Searching for a Place to Sell Animal Bones I Found Inside Animals

by Samuel Milligan, 3.24am May 10th 2021

I have a few plastic buckets of bones and bleach and Dawn tucked tidily in the backseat and nothing to do on a Saturday afternoon, so I drive down from the unincorporated community of Bear Creek to Waynesboro to see if anyone’ll take them off my hands. It is a pleasant drive, or at least pleasant enough in the sealed environment of the truck cab. The dry, finished bones chatter pleasantly against one another in their sealed cylinder. The fresher variety make their presence known with sloshing and mild burping through their hole-punched, cracked lids.  An exhale of decay with every bump, curve, and ribbed slab of asphalt as I descend; oxygen speeds the bacterial cleaning process.

It goes without saying that these are, of course, bones from dead animals. 

Outside, it is mostly cloudy. Chilly when the wind whips across the pavement. I cannot tell if the town has changed since the last time I was here or if I just never paid enough attention to be able to notice what could have changed. There are green banners on both sides of Wayne Street that twitch like flaps of skin in the wind. I am stopped in a lot shared by two buildings: an antique store and a barbecue restaurant. Both are called Gio’s. The lot is empty at three in the afternoon on a Saturday. I take one dry bucket and one wet bucket and head first for the barbecue place. I am hopeful. There is a deer head mounted below the awning, above the swinging glass doors. PULL, they ask. One of the chairs in their waiting area has hooves for feet. Could they not use additional décor bones? I ask myself.

“Bones?” asks the hostess.

“Just bones, dry bones, and then also”—I heft up the other bucket and it makes a wet, wave-pool-type sound—“soon-to-be dry bones. They still got sludge and gristle and whatnot. I wouldn’t give those to you. I’d let them cure and dry and all that before I gave these bones to you.”

“What are we going to do with loose bones?” says the hostess. There is a family waiting behind me. Sixty-four orbital bones housing jumpy little globs of jelly and nerve. One hundred and eight bones shifting softly side to side. Enough to communicate their discomfort and not enough to be straight up rude. I can nearly hear them rattling, even through socks and shitty sneakers.

I turn to the family of four. “You go ahead,” I say. I turn back to the hostess. I shake the dry bucket. Let her hear a little clatter. “If you let me speak to a manager, I’m sure it’ll make more sense,” I say.

The manager tells me to fucking leave and when I pause in the doorway, the wet bucket pressing the door open at my side, he anticipates my question.

“It’s the same Gio,” he says. “Don’t even try. I’ll come over there and tell you to fucking leave again myself.”

I drive around some more. There are four antiques shops, three art galleries, one gay social club, one Heritage Museum, two Salvadoran restaurants, and no fewer than fourteen automobile repair shops in Waynesboro. I pass all of these twice before noticing the Blueridge Magick Shop. It is one block over from Gio’s Antiques and Gio’s Barbecue and I return and park in that lot. The sun has slipped below the clouds and appears to hover at the horizon; someone is running out of time for something, and I do not intend to be involved. I grab just the dry bones bucket and shuffle-run to Blueridge Magick Shop, leaving my truck alone with one other car in the Gio’s lot.

It is mostly dark inside, except for the well-lit parts. Everything smells like good tea or mold-rimed compost or the air just before hard rain or the air just after light rain or a pile of library books that have just been returned or a long, sweaty nap.  The whole shop is one rectangular room. At the far end is a black curtain and a register and a cashier. The cashier is sitting on a stool, their boots hovering just above the epoxy flooring; it is impossible to say whether they are moving up or down, but their feet give me the idea that something is about to happen. On the left side of the room is a wall of jars, herbs and spices and sticks and empty jars with long labels and small leaves and big leaves and, I think, one jar that is just full of Cheetos puffs. On the right side are candles. Too many to describe. I shake my bucket from the spot where I have stopped, on the doorway footmat, which feels familiar. I have never been to this shop but I have stood here a million times. 

The cashier seems to recede into the black curtain. I cannot see stool nor booted feet, only a voice that pulses blue and red and black across the air. “You have raccoon mandibles? You have coyote jaw? You have frog skulls or possum metatarsals or spines of squirrel? You have chicken foot and cat knuckle?” asks the lone employee of the Blueridge Magick Shop. 

I have it all and say so. They offer too much cash. Suddenly, the wall of herbs and spices feels like it is ready to pounce on me. The weight of the bucket, so loud and heavy before, is nothing; I can keep these bones. They can ride around with me. I’ll sew them into jackets and hide them in pant cuffs and they’ll be mine forever. 

“What are you going to do with them?” I ask, sputter, spit.

“What are you going to do with them, dude?” the shadow asks back. 

I drop the buckets. Cash in my back pocket. 

“If you ever have more bones,” the shadow begins.

“I know exactly where to find you,” I finish. Slip out the door and back to my car. Even as the sun sets, the day seems a little warmer, and I put the windows down as I and the empty backseat drive home.